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More Research to Prevent Racehorse Injury 'Necessity'

29 September 2014

UK - More research should be done on the factors involved in tendon injury to help prevent the condition in racehorses, a meeting organised by the University of Glasgow has heard.

Horse owners and trainers say they would like more help in preventing the costly injury, which can easily end a champion's career, with prevention rather than cure being the area that researchers should focus on, according to the meeting, held to discuss a study into superficial digital flexor tendon injuries.

These injuries are both exercise and age-related and affect up to 30 per cent of thoroughbred racehorses, with similarities to Achilles tendon injuries in human athletes.

Despite apparent advances in stem cell techniques to repair damaged tendons in horses, trainers and owners say they would like more help preventing the injury in the first place, and would prefer that this is where researchers focus their attention.

Tendon injuries are slow-healing and can easily recur, effectively ending the racing career of many horses.

The difficulty lies in early diagnosis of superficial digital flexor tendon injury as, while there are various degrees of damage before the tendon ruptures, and before the horse is visibly lame, there is currently no simple test that can be carried out to find this damage in its earliest stages. Once a tendon weakens to the point that it ruptures, it will never be the same again.

Professor Janet Patterson-Kane, professor of veterinary pathology, said: “What researchers are focusing on is not necessarily what people want. We thought they would be interested in stem-cell therapy and suchlike, but they’d rather not have to spend large amounts of money on treatments in the first place.

"Prevention, however, could make a bigger difference – for example, there have been success stories in general injury prevention through paying attention to things like race surfaces and animal welfare."

The study, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and published in the Equine Veterinary Journal, suggests there should be research to further identify factors involved in tendon injury, links between training regimens early in life and subsequent performance, and the development of imaging and blood testing strategies for the detection of early signs of injury.

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